How to prevent common yoga injuries

Yoga pose, Warrior 2

The practice of yoga is certainly known for its innumerable physical and mental benefits, but when practiced without respecting one’s own limits it can incur into injury. The good news is that yoga-related injuries are minor and infrequent. Still, I will highlight the most common ones and give you some guidelines as to how to prevent them. 

Low back

The lower portion of the spine tends to be a sensitive area since most humans spend most of their day sitting down. Maintaining the spine in a flexed position over long periods of time weakens the back. When carried over to the yoga mat this weakness can become aggravated by poses that hyper-flex or hyperextend the spine. 

To safeguard your back, first of all, don’t bounce while in a yoga pose. Those sudden movements can easily cause a muscle spasm that could last up to a few days. Also, try to always keep your knees slightly bent, especially when you fold forward over straight legs. This tiny action will simultaneously prevent overloading your low back and protect your knees from hyperextension.

In terms of back-bending, be sure to prepare your upper thoracic spine with a sequence that gradually opens the heart area. Some of my favorite preparatory postures include lunge-twists and cobra pose variations. When in a backbend, you want to avoid any pinching or discomfort in your lumbar region. If this happens, come out of the pose and ask your teacher for help.

Hamstring

Over-stretched hamstrings are a common yoga-related injury; I’ve experienced it a few times myself. If you’ve pulled one of your hamstrings you will notice a sharp pain in the back of your thigh (near your sit bone) when you walk, sit and bend forward. A pulled hamstring is not a serious injury but it is annoying since it affects your flexibility. Suddenly you can’t bend forward as deeply as you could before.

If you have a hamstring injury, it is important that you don’t quit your yoga practice all together, as prolonged periods of rest may aggravate the situation. To fully recover, you’ll need to learn how to modify your practice for the duration of your convalescence, about 3 months. The usual recommendation is to  bend the knees in all forward folds and to back off slightly when you notice any pain or disomfort in the injured area.

Knee ligaments

If you can’t comfortably sit in lotus pose why not try one of it’s easier variations? Knee injuries are incredibly disabling and must be avoided at all costs. Whenever you feel discomfort in your knees during your practice, seek out a more comfortable position.

The study of anatomy proves that we tend to force the knee joint (in yoga) when our hips are not open enough. To avoid damaging your ligaments, you need to work  patiently and steadily towards opening your hips. David Kiel, author and blogger at www.yoganatomy.com, has produced some very useful videos on how to prepare the hips for padmasana, (lotus pose). I have attached the links here and here.

Conclusion

I read somewhere that most yoga injuries have to do with one’s ego, as in that tendency to push forward into a pose no matter what the consequences. I’ve fallen into that trap of a few times myself and can guarantee that it leads nowhere. The general rule of thumb for cultivating a safe practice is to listen to the body and the breath at all times. Especially the breath! It will always give you away when you’re tying to force things. 

An update on my online anatomy course (and experience)

julia zatta

Hi there!

I feel like I’ve neglecting you as it’s been ages since I posted anything in English. I apologize for that! Here’s a little recap as to what I’ve been up to:

In July I launched my first ever online anatomy course (in Spanish) and I’ve been putting all my energy there, making sure things run smoothly and that everyone is happy and cared for. So far, it’s been a really positive and fun experience. I thoroughly enjoy delivering the classes and interacting with my students online.

I’m so pleased with our group’s diversity: we’ve got a majority of long time yoga teachers who bring a wealth of knowledge and personal experience to the table. We’ve also got an acupuncture student and a massage therapist in the mix. I’m enjoying getting to know everyone and seeing how the group’s interactions are unfolding in our private facebook group. (We’ve got a facebook group that serves as a forum to share our homework and anatomy-related information).

Some of the people who’ve signed up for the course are from Barcelona and Catalonia, while others log in to our virtual conference room from as far away as Madrid and San Sebastian. It’s exciting to meet people from all over without leaving the house. It’s also nice to see familiar faces and to engage with people I’ve known for ages but whom I don’t usually get to see very often.

Another thing I quite like about the online format is the amount of freedom that it grants us. We can communicate easily and fluidly via email, voice memos and Skype. Those who cannot attend the “live” weekly classes have access to video-recordings of each session. That way everyone moves forward at their own pace while remaining connected to and encouraged by the group’s progress.

This versatility is a game-changer for me. I didn’t realize how many people wanted to attend my classes but couldn’t, due to travel time, scheduling, work and family commitments. It’s actually quite hard to find a time and a place that works for everyone but it seems as though the internet -and all it’s nifty tools- has given us a respite and made life easier for everybody.

So, what’s next?

I’m eager to launch this same course in English. I’m curious to see what I can offer to the English-speaking yoga & bodywork  community. I also love the convenience of reaching people far away without all the overhead costs of travelling! I’ll be offering up some dates soon!! Stay tuned 🙂

In the meantime, I’d love to know what I can help you with. What are your anatomy needs?  What issues would you like to have clarity about? What do you want to learn? Email me!

Have a great week!

Julia

My 5 favorite Anatomy books (and an app!)

Hello!

Today I offer this video-resena of the books of anatomy that I use most. They are ideal resources to accompany my course of Anatomy applied online and to deepen your knowledge of the Anatomy for yoga and complementary therapies. Herein in writing my opinion with link to each book. I hope to serve you!

Book of Anatomy: Guide toporgafica of the human body

  1. Topographic guide of the human body

This book is great, highly recommended! It is designed especially for manual therapists and masseurs. It is full of very clear illustrations and its format is didactic and not pedantic. It also comes with a DVD that explains clearly and briefly practicing palpation of the different muscles in the body to someone else.

Book of Anatomy: Anatomy, workbook

  1. Anatomy workbook

Each page is a table made for coloring. It is a fun way and kinesthetic learning anatomy. In addition to tables on the musculo-skeletal system, includes tables on other systems of human body and explains their physiology. It is detailed and not cumbersome. I use it much in my classes and workshops. Tip: get photocopies of the sheets before color them! That way you can color them again and again.  

Book: Anatomy for movement

  1. Anatomy for movement.

A classic, written for students of dance and movement. It explains the how and why of our movements in the dance and in everyday life. It is small and handy. The only downside is that you'll need a good atlas of anatomy to accompany texts, as these are drawings including schematics.

App: Anatomy of the human body in 3D

  1. Essental Anatomy app.

Super-util and economic. To isolate and see different muscles, bones and organs of the human body in 3D is a wonder! You can add or remove muscle layers to isolate the muscle you want, enlarge, shrink it, turn it over,… It is a wonderful program and is incredibly versatile. I used it to record this video on the rib cage and this one on the diaphragm.

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  1. Drawing of Anatomy and motion study

The artists also studied anatomy to better represent the human body. The advantage that has this manual for cartoonists is that people with constitutions and natural-looking muscles represents "normal" people or. Medical Anatomy textbooks tend to retract very muscular bodies, which can distort our idea of the proportion of the different muscles. Here the muscles are represented with realistic proportions and designated on the skin. I find that it is useful for teachers of yoga, as in class we can not get the anatomical atlas to find out where is the trapezius muscle. With this book you will learn to recognize the superficial muscles in sight and know them locate.

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  1. Functional anatomy of yoga

Anatomy for yoga books often have a static view of the postures of yoga and the person; stop with detailed descriptions of what muscle is retracted what asana, as if everyone had the same body and the same practice. On the contrary, David Keil, creator of yoganatomy.com has a holistic view of the human body, its structure and how to get closer to the asanas. In his book, talks about things to the Yogis more interesting: the causes of typical lesions, and considerations on how to approach the positions "challenge". It is a very good mix of practical concepts applied to yoga.  And all that with a relaxed and colloquial language that anyone can read.

What these books / resources attracts you more?

How do I protect my low back in yoga? (Part 1)

Today’s question comes from Mar who wants to know:

“How can I protect my back in backbends?”

While there are many factors that contribute to low back pain in yoga, the one I want to address today has to do with bad posture. I’m talking about the habit of thrusting the hips forward and turning the feet out when standing. Charlie Chaplin famously adopted -and exaggerated- this posture.

charlie chaplin posture análisisThis apparently harmless stance creates tension deep to the buttocks, possibly compressing the sacrum and low back. When carried over to yoga, this postural habit will have you pushing your hips up as high as possible in urdva dhanurasana (bridge pose) with painful consequences to your low back.  (Here’s a completely different expression, of the same postural pattern).

The anatomical perspective:

Our hip rotator muscles live deep to the “glutes” in the buttocks. This muscle group is comprised of six individual muscles that connect the back of the femur to the pelvis. Acting together, these muscles turn the leg out, a movement also called “external rotation of the femur.” When standing, tight hip rotators will also tilt the pelvis backwards, while the two actions combined (external rotation of the leg and posterior pelvic tilt) may result in sacroiliac joint compression and back pain. 

Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 8.53.13 AMAllow me a little digression. Have you ever heard of the piriformis muscle? It is the most “famous” of all the hip rotators. Here’s why: it is singlehandedly responsible for a painful condition known as piriformis syndrome. Piriformis syndrome is caused by the compression of the sciatic nerve by way of an overly tight piriformis muscle. Luckily, this painful condition can be relieved through stretching and deep tissue massage.

Now, back to posture. If we move through life with our own version of Chaplin’s gait, our posture will affect how we perform asanas (yoga poses). This is because posture is not a static “thing”, but a pre-conditioned movement pattern. Those of us who habitually thrust our hips forward and splay our feet out, seek stability by tightening our hip rotators. This habit will also affect how we move into asana. When tightening the deep buttock muscles, it will be difficult to maintain the knees “hip width apart and parallel” in yoga poses such as bridge. This clenching will also compress the sacroiliac joint and cause discomfort in the low back.

The good new is that we can retrain our posture by bringing our femurs to a more neutral position, thus freeing up our low back and avoiding unnecessary pain.

Try these easy steps:

  • Standing upright trace a horizontal line from your pubic bone to the outer edges of your hips. Here, you’ll be able to palpate the proximal portion of the femur, the greater trochanter, an easy easy to palpate  bony landmark. 
  • Now, initiating movement from your greater trochanters, move your femurs into a slight internal rotation. Visualize the movement of your leg bones, as this will help you to better execute the movement. Keep your buttocks soft and your breath relaxed.  Feel the subtle sensations in your body. Do you notice your sacrum growing wider? Does the weight distribution on your feet change?
  • After you’ve become familiar with the previous exercise, bring it into your yoga practice. Instead of pushing your hips upwards in Setu Bandha Sarvanghasana (bridge prep), focus on the position of your femurs in relation to your pelvis. Gently turn them inwards without tightening the buttocks. What do you notice now? Are your legs working harder? This is because now they’re actually supporting the weight of your body, whereas before they were pushing into your low back.

The purpose of this exercise is to help you gain awareness of your body (and your posture!) on and off the mat. Will you give it a try? 

PS: I’m teaching an anatomy and yoga workshop this Saturday -May 30th, 2015. Care to join us?

Anatomy Question:

“What is the relationship between the diaphragm, the psoas and the 12th dorsal vertebrae? Why is it important in yoga?” ~ Raquel

The psoas and diaphragm muscles are intimetely linked to one another, as one starts where the other ends. These two muscles meet on the anterior portion of the 12th dorsal vertebrae, right behind the peritoneum in the abdominal cavity.*

In this context, the 12th rib is a landmark that is easy to locate in one’s body: just draw a horizontal line from the inferior tip of your sternum (xyfoid process) all the way around to your spine. Yous should land just above your 12th dorsal vertebrae. Now that you know where that landmark is, you can also access -via your imagination- the back portion of your diaphragm, where it meets the psoas. 

Many yoga teachers use the language of anatomy to direct their student’s attention inwards (pratyahara).  If you are familiar with this language, you can follow your teacher’s instructions and place your attention wherever instructed. The attention required to do that fosters a meditative state in which you are totally present, here and now, aware of your body and listening to the sensations that arise. This is yoga!

*I made this video to help you see and understand the relationship between psoas, diaphragm and 12th dorsal vertebrae. I hope you like it.

Was this helpful? I’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback. 

Anatomy of the breath

lungs

Artist: Camilla Sitarama Carlow

I’m finally back home in Barcelona, re-connecting with the special people whose presence in my life I am truly grateful for. And even though you may find it strange, you are one of those people. I’m serious! I really missed posting every week while I was out of the counrty. I have been positively surprised and inspired by the engaging conversations and interactions I have had with you all. They really make my day, so thank you.

This year, during the 3 months of yoga practice one of the things I’ve noticed was how my breath continues to change thanks to yoga. My breathing normally is short and really irregular. Sometimes I even catch myself not breathing when I’m typing away on the computer. I don’t like it. I’ve also noticed that my breathing is not good in moments of stress and that it contributes to feelings of anxiety and overload. The good new is that with yoga my breathing is becoming more regular, slower and deeper. On an emotional level I feel calmer, and less agitated, less in a hurry to get to what’s next. It’s awesome.

Yoga teaches us to place our awareness on the breath at all times, and little by little the breath refines itself. There are years of personal history, story lines and beliefs  that affect the way I breathe and these usually prevent a smooth, fluid breath. By placing my attention on the breath in my practice, I have built up the ability to be present now and not give too much importance to my thoughts. In this way, I have witnessed a deeper layer emerge that is richer and a lot more interesting than the stories rolling around in my head. One of my favorite Downton Abbey characters, the Dowager, says: “All this endless thinking. It’s very overrated!” I agree.

One day, during practice, my teacher gave us this instruction: “feel the breath from inside the breath.” (This is not a precise quote, just what I remember). I took it to mean: stop trying to inhale as if it’s something I do, instead be the inhale. Watch it rise and fall. Surrender to each breath completely. When I apply this instruction to my breath everything changes, my body, my breath, the room, the sounds.. it’s like I’m witnessing them for the first time. Even though this experience lasts only a few moments, it’s a little gift born from of yoga. And it’s priceless.


Anatomy Of The Breath

This weekend I’ll be co-teaching an anatomy workshop with Marta Puig in ZonaIoga, Sabadell.

In this first class – which is part of of a 3-session series – I will introduce some of the basic principals of anatomy and how these apply to you yoga practice. You will learn about the tissues of the body and explores them in class.

The next workshop is about the anatomy of the breath while the last one explores how the diaphragm and psoas relates to our core muscles.

Following each anatomy class, Marta will guide a delicious yoga practice so we can  put all that we’ve learned into practice. I can’t imagine a better way to spend Saturday morning, can you?

The series of workshops starts this Saturday may 9th and goes from 11:30 am to 2 pm. Please RSVP in advance. Have a great week!

PS: Do you have questions about anatomy? Well, I have answers. You can send me your questions here.

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